The Legend of Zelda has captivated us for more than three decades now, and this franchise still has the capacity to surprise and delight. With Breath of the Wild, the latest installment, Nintendo has made a clean break from much of the traditions and baggage that comes with the name “Zelda” in favor of a Switch launch title that feels exciting and modern.
We saw the 3DS-exclusive A Link Between Worlds hit in 2013, but we haven’t had a full-fledged console Zelda release since November of 2011 — more than five years ago. The last console Zelda game was on the freaking Wii! Nintendo teased Breath of the Wild as early as 2013, but game-starved Wii U owners were met with delay after delay. Thankfully, it seems to have been well worth the wait.
Now that the reviews have finally hit, we’re getting a clear picture of just how incredible Breath of the Wild really is. Over at our sister site IGN, reviewer Jose Otero gave the game a perfect score of 10/10 on the Switch. Similarly, it earned a perfect score on other major gaming outlets like GameSpot, Polygon, Game Informer, and USgamer. In fact, this new Zelda game has a jaw-dropping metascore of 98/100 based on the 64 reviews on Metacritic. Purely by the numbers, this is among the most well-reviewed games of all time. That’s a hell of a way to launch a new console!
However, it’s important to remember that Breath of the Wild is releasing on the Wii U as well. The dying platform of yore is not where Nintendo is putting its promotional weight, and so reviews for this version are scarce. We know that it’s limited to 720p output, but we’re not entirely certain of any other limitations. There’s been talk about performance issues, but we’ll have to wait for more in-depth breakdowns to know for sure.
Over at Digital Foundry, footage from the Switch version of the game has been analyzed in both docked and portable mode. We knew going in that Breath of the Wild wouldn’t be able to hit 1080p on the Switch, but it’s worth mentioning that it renders at 900p while docked, 720p on the go.
While we might expect the portable mode to cut back on the LOD distance or certain effects, it seems that resolution is really the only major difference. Sure, the texture filtering is slightly better in docked mode, but pixel count is really where Nintendo is compromising.
Okay, but what about frame rate? Well, here’s where it gets interesting. In portable mode, when the Switch downclocks the GPU, the game actually runs better. Based on tests with the latest patch, the handheld version stays nearly perfectly locked at 30fps, while the docked mode suffers from drops down to 20fps.
Weirdly, the graphical complexity of the scene doesn’t seem to impact frame rate. There’s some sort of bottleneck causing problems here, and Digital Foundry theorizes that the memory bandwidth might be causing the issue when pushing more pixels. We hope that Nintendo will be able to improve this in a future patch, but the handheld mode is your best bet for now.
Now read: Nintendo Switch review roundup: A great portable, but questionable console